Ah, the Difference a Comma Makes!

One of my recycled blog posts was published in an ezine today, and apparently people are more interested in insulting me than in reading what I wrote.

The article was about striving for clarity in writing. I wrote;

There seem to be two vociferous groups of writers nowadays:

1. Self-published writers who insist that they can do everything their way without regard to grammar rules, publishing conventions, and even readers.

2. Writers who want to be published by the major publishing houses, and who scrupulously follow every dictate in the hopes it will bring them the acclaim they strive for.

ReadingI described each of the groups and ended by saying that the truth of good writing lies somewhere in the middle of those two groups.

Very simple, right? Wrong.

One self-published author commented: Bracketing all self-publishers as people who ‘do everything their way without regard to grammar rules, publishing conventions, and even readers’, is not true Pat, and you know it! If your point was merely to be controversial, you have certainly achieved it. Your obvious prejudice against self-publishers in general has done you no favours, believe me. Yes, some do ignore the rules, but then there are people like myself – best selling self-published authors who do obey the rules…

Another wrote: Your categorising writers into two groups is just plain silly. It smacks of snobbery and a failure to comprehend reality.

Huh? Doesn’t anyone read?

First, even if I believed self-publishers are all bad writers, which I don’t, I would never publicly come out and say it. Too many self-publishers are militant, fighting a battle that has already been won, and it’s simply not worth getting into the fray.

Second, I listed two “vociferous” groups. Those who strive for good writing are not vociferous. They simply write without insisting that their way is the right way.

Third, if you will notice, I did not say all self-published writers. I said “self-published writers who insist they can do everything their way.” If I meant all self-published writers, I would have written “self-published writers, who insist they can do everything their way”.

Ah, the difference a comma makes!

Maybe next I need to write an article about striving for clarity in reading.

***

For those of you who don’t understand the comma rule:

In the sentence “Self-published writers who insist that they can do everything their way”, the clause “who insist that they can do everything their way” does not have a comma before it, which means it’s a restrictive clause. It restricts the subject “Self-published writers” to those who insist they can do everything their way. Leaving off the comma means that the clause is an integral part of the subject, that the subject does not stand alone.

If I had meant all self-published writers, I would have used a comma. The comma would have alerted readers that the phrase “who insist that they can do everything their way” was a non-restrictive clause — merely a parenthetical remark describing all self-published writers, and it could have been removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. But, I did not use the comma. Hence, I did not make a sweeping generality that took in all self-published writers. The comment referred to a select few vociferous writers.

In my experience, those who insist they can write however they wish without regard to rules are self-published or plan to be, so my sentence as I wrote it was not pejorative. Writers who wish to pursue a different avenue of publishing know they have to follow the rules of whatever publishing company or agent they are trying to impress, and they will not vociferously proclaim they can write however they wish without regard to rules.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

About these ads

6 Responses to “Ah, the Difference a Comma Makes!”

  1. Holly Bonville Says:

    Writers sure are sensitive! :)

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Yeah. I’m going to have to find something to blog about. I can’t always write about grief, and it’s not worth writing about writing. I used to write about the books I read, but the militancy of authors has taken the fun out of reading.

  2. derekalanwilkinson Says:

    I consider myself a writer, and yet I had to pull out the dictionary to look up “vociferous.” Thank you for that.

  3. Steve Lakey Says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a difference of opinion – it can still be done respectfully. A shame some people don’t seem to realise this.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You’re right — there is nothing wrong with a difference of opinion, but so often people attack the person not the opinion. I purposely stay away from controversial matters for that very reason.


I'd love to hear what you have to say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,518 other followers

%d bloggers like this: